Over 700 people came to London's prestigious Guildhall on Friday 9 October for the UK commemoration of the UN's 70th anniversary, hosted by UNA-UK in association with the City of London Corporation and with generous support from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, Gro Harlem Brundtland and Hina Jilani were the main speakers.
After a welcome by Alderman Ian Luder, Lord Mayor Locum Tenens, Natalie Samarasinghe, UNA-UK's Executive Director, introduced the event. Pointing to the origins of the United Nations in the Second World War, she said that the anniversary challenged the international community to assess whether its actions have been sufficient to prevent such a catastrophe from happening again.
She reinforced UNA-UK's fundamental message that despite its political limitations and failures, the UN has had a transformative impact on the world and that governments and individuals cannot risk taking it for granted:
Brundtland and Jilani put forward strong agenda for effective UN
Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway, and Hina Jilani, Pakistani Supreme Court Advocate - both members of The Elders - then took to the stage for an interactive panel discussion. The session focussed on why the UN matters and how to make it more effective and able to deliver for the world's seven billion people.
Based on questions pre-submitted by the audience and through social media on the day, they tackled some of the hardest issues facing the UN, from preventing mass atrocities to reforming the Security Council to opening up the opaque way in which the UN appoints its Secretary-General.
Prime Minister Brundtland opened the discussion by arguing that "greater transparency" in the selection process would be an important step towards transforming the UN. She recommended three reforms that echo proposals put forward by UNA-UK's 1 for 7 Billion campaign: that the Security Council nominates more than one candidate for the UN's top job; that there is open dialogue between candidates, governments and civil society; and that the next UN leader - who will be appointed next year - stands for a single, non-renewable term:
For Advocate Jilani, who has spent her life campaigning for human rights in Pakistan and around the world, the key to a stronger UN is increased grassroots involvement. She stressed that governments should find new ways to ensure that civil society voices are "not just heard, but listened to" by the Security Council:
She also spoke out passionately against abuse of the veto, stressing that it is "a privilege which has to be used responsibly", not an "inalienable right [to be used ] for selfish reasons of national interest". She called on governments to learn from past mistakes when addressing threats to peace and security, citing Iraq and Libya as examples of "what not to do".
Zeid delivers powerful speech on rights in UK and beyond
After this session, UNA-UK's Chairman, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, warned about the urgent need to reinforce our international system, which is under considerable strain. Introducing Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, he said that the creation of the international human rights system was one of the UN's great achievements, but that compliance remained a serious concern.
The High Commissioner delivered a powerful speech in which he addressed the refugee and migrant crisis and reminded the UK of its human rights obligations towards those who flee conflict zones around the world:
Applause broke out across the room when he implored the UK to reconsider proposals to "scrap" the Human Rights Act, warning that such a move would damage the UK's reputation on the world stage:
There was broad consensus among speakers and panelists that in a world where crises cross borders, effective international cooperation is vital for Britain’s security and prosperity.
The most important step the UK can take to mark the UN’s 70th anniversary is a strong commitment to invest in the continued health of the United Nations. Click here to help us convey this message to the Government
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